Raven Cycle

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There are some stories that you just know are going to irrevocably change you. Stories that you get into and realize, belatedly, that they are unmaking and remaking parts of your sense of self, your reader’s soul, and you will never be the same. I was about 1/3 of the way through listening to The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater when I was blasted with the realization that this was to be one of those books. I thought lightening probably wouldn’t strike twice, or at least not so sharply, and listened to Dream Thieves. Then I thought surely 3 times is too much to ask…Blue Lily, Lily Blue proved that thought a lie. So I bought the entire set. It wasn’t enough to listen to them, I had to have them in physical form on my shelf, within easy reach when I needed them… And Then The Raven King happened.

I don’t have the words or the emotional fortitude left to explain how it all worked on me. I can piece bits together…like the fact that when a certain someone speaks of being fully of the white fuzzy light, I felt it right along with them. When the fear and terrible hope for and because of a best friend lit through them all, I was there. Maggie’s writing drew me, a 31-year-old author and teacher, into the world of magic and high school so completely that I had to wrench myself back into reality with much more effort than it should ever have to take. At page 416, Chapter 65, of The Raven King I had to stop. I literally couldn’t take it anymore (in the best of ways) and HAD to go refill my coffee, take a potty break, check the laundry, and allow myself to sob uncontrollably for exactly 45 seconds. The things that we always knew would happen. That we learned of in the first chapter of the first book before any of us knew the characters that now inhabit our hearts and minds and souls…they hurt more for the fact that we can’t do anything but watch and ache with them. Like being the helpless bystander of a horrendous accident.

This book, this finale to a series much beloved, destroyed me, remade me, and then kicked my ass before telling me it loved me and stroking my hair as a cried and giggled. This devastated me in the best possible of ways. Maggie Stiefvater has said she may revisit this world when she’s lived another 20 or so years…I beg of you Maggie, don’t leave it that long.

Overarching Storyline for the Series – Is one of love, friendship, growth, discovery, and magic…always magic.

We spend 4 books in suspense, waiting to see if the first thing we’re told about two main characters will culminate into a truth that will destroy the lot of us, ripping our hearts out and stomping all over our emotions. We are not disappointed in any way. From the first book we are drawn in to Blue’s psychic family, we feel her frustration and distress at being an ‘amplifier’ with a terrible destiny…if she wants to ever date anyone, that is, and we are bowled over by her extremely intense beliefs. One such strong held belief is that the Raven Boys of Aglionby Academy are the worst sort…which is, of course, why her future revolves around and intertwines with that of 4 such boys. The different personalities, backstories, and paths of each character take the reader on a roller coaster across the The Raven Cycle and it is unlike any other, and well worth with the price of the ride.

I give this series 5 out of 5 dragons, 5 out of 5 stars, and all 4 sections of my heart…one for each of them.

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Picture Book Reviews

Hello everyone! I thought that I would do a quick post today and give you some short reviews on Picture Books that we’ve been reading lately. I hope you enjoy them!

 

 moonflute One of the first things we noticed was that there are no illustrations on the end pages (my daughter is keen on them!) However, the book was beautiful enough that she now forgives them. Though this book is an older picture book, both in publication date (1980) and intended audience (probably k-2) we had a lot of fun looking at the illustrations and reading the story together. The story line is a bit of nonsense, but very well written and beautifully dreamlike. I definitely suggest this to anyone Moonflute

Written by Audrey Wood and Illustrates by Don Wood

 

One of the first things we noticed was that there are no illustrations on the end pages (my daughter is keen on them!) However, the book was beautiful enough that she now forgives them. Though this book is an older picture book, both in publication date (1980) and intended audience (probably k-2) we had a lot of fun looking at the illustrations and reading the story together. The story line is a bit of nonsense, but very well written and beautifully dreamlike. I definitely suggest this to anyone with children that are old enough to appreciate and enjoy a good story and good illustrations, and to kids who are musical or don’t sleep easily.

 

I Wish I Had…

Written by Giovanna Zoboli and Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani

Very cute picture book. The Illustrations are adorable and each page highlights one animal and one of the highlighted animal’s special skills. While this isn’t a fact filled non-fiction to get kids really understanding different animals, it is great to show diversity and interesting factoids to younger children. My animal adoring 3 yr old loved it.

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Night Animals

Written and Illustrated by Gianna Marino

night animals This is a very cute little book with amazing art work and an adorable little story. Though the story is told more through observation than through words, the images and speech bubbles work together quite well. The one problem we had with this book, though, is that there is not a story other than the speech bubbles. My daughter likes short blocks of text and wasn’t too sure about this format! However, it was an adorable book and I really liked that it showed us a possum instead of a raccoon to be This is a very cute little book with amazing art work and an adorable little story. Though the story is told more through observation than through words, the images and speech bubbles work together quite well. The one problem we had with this book, though, is that there is not a story other than the speech bubbles. My daughter likes short blocks of text and wasn’t too sure about this format! However, it was an adorable book and I really liked that it showed us a possum instead of a raccoon to begin with (no raccoon ever showed up actually) because my daughter knows about many night animals but the possum was new to her, which worked itself into a great conversation

 

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

Written by Kathryn Gibbs Davis and Illustrated by Gilbert Ford

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This is a picture book meant more for older children (Elementary aged, 2nd and 3rd grade most likely). The information within is a great mixture of facts and narrative combining with gorgeous artwork to provide the story of George Ferris and his State Fair attraction…The Monster Wheel! The book, and it’s amazingly gorgeous illustrations, begins with the Eiffel Tower from the World’s Fair in 1889.the main attraction of engineering’s accomplishments…and goes through the contest and building of the 1893 World Fair’s main attraction. We very much enjoyed this and my 3-year-old now knows the name of the man responsible for the big wheelie thing Mommy won’t ride. We not only recommend this to children, but to adults as well. In fact, we took it to show some teachers…who are adding it to their lesson plans for next year’s 3rd graders. Presentations will be made because this book provides a FUN learning experience.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus

Written by Judith Viorst and Illustrated by Lane Smith

 519uYsKgzCL._AC_US240_QL65_ This is an absolutely adorable little story! My 3 year old and I love to read children’s chapter books together and this one held her attention all the way through. She asked for repeats, pointed out pieces of the illustrations to me, and discussed proper manners etc with me as we progressed through this book with Lulu, a little girl who has no use for manners to begin with. This is a solid children’s read and I recommend it to ages 1-adult and back again.

 

Artsy Animals

Do you like random facts? Do you enjoy animal artwork? Do you love tiny little books that can conveniently be carried with you virtually anywhere???

THEN I HAVE JUST THE BOOK FOR YOU!!

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*Slightly smaller than actual size*

Maja Safstrom is an architect and illustrator from Stockholm who has worked with Ten Speed Press to bring us a small book with a big impact. Coming at a mere 6.3×0.7×7.8 inches in dimension, The illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts combines pen and ink/black and white drawings with facts about several different animals, all seemingly hand lettered. This book gives us not only  peek aat nature, but  look at the author’s nature journal (of sorts).

The book is very well made, the cover binding feels nice and fits very well into a hand, the interior pages have the look and feel of thicker art paper, and the entire piece feels like a work of art lovingly created for the audience.

If you enjoy Maja’s style of artwork, as I do, I highly suggest also following her on Instagram!

I’ll leave you with a  fact to ponder while you’re waiting on that page to load.

“Penguins laugh when they are tickled.”

You’re welcome and have a marvelous day!

Can I (An Author) Respond to Reviews?

Should Authors Respond to Reviews, EVER???

As I was scrolling through a certain social media site this morning, I ran across a posted article by BookRiot and entitled “Dear Authors: Don’t Respond to Goodreads Reviews.” Written by Brenna Clark Gray and originally published on July 10, 2015, this article discussed a certain author ‘going off’ on a reviewer. Using this as a basis for her opinion, Ms. Grey proceeded to conclude that authors should not respond to any reviews, good or bad, because even to say thank you is to intrude on the reviewers “reviewing space” which, apparently, could be compromised and their ability to write a completely honest review would fly out the window (I’m rephrasing here but I believe that was the basic gist of the paragraph.)

If you would like to read the article, click – here– to do so. I would also like to suggest that you go on to the Book Riot Facebook page – here – and find this post to read the comments. While a few seem horribly venomous and slightly under-educated about the idea, the comments really serve as a good cross-section of research for readers’ feelings on the subject.

The comments on that post were honestly what made me think more on this topic. The idea that an interaction with an author, no matter how respectful it is, could make someone uncomfortable is something I really had never thought of. As both an author and an avid reader, I’ve always nerded out at the littlest minute possibility that my writing heroes noticed my existence! But then again, I don’t believe that I ever told them they were stupid and uneducated, which some of the reviewers do on occasion.

So what answer have I come up with after pondering this question for a few hours? What has my reading and writing brain concluded? Well, in my semi-expert (in my own mind anyway) opinion: Go for it! Answer those reviews respectfully. But DO NOT ANSWER THEM IMMEDIATELY!

What I mean by this is not that you should look at an absolutely horrid 1-star review that gives no reasons for their loathing of your life’s work other than the idea that you were born without a brain and a chicken quite possibly transcribed your story, stew on it for a few hours, and then write a well worded, scathing, and absolutely equally horrid response insinuating that the reviewer is, in fact, living with the half brain donated by their family’s beloved pet donkey. No. That is, in fact, a very poor plan. Because however else I feel about Ms. Grey’s article, I 100% agree with the statement that no matter what the outcome, an author who responds in such a manner will be hurt by it.

Do NOT tell them how stupid they are. Someone who can’t spell basic words once reviewed a book of mine a trashed it. They claimed the book was rife with spelling and grammar mistakes and that it took away from the story. However, they rated it a 3 star and proceeded to state that they had bought the other two books and were currently reading the second (at the time). I wailed and went off about that for days. However, I did not respond (ok…I may have responded and then immediately deleted my response). That kind of back and forth will probably never do any good and even hollering about my degree in education, heavy on English and Music would only serve to make me look worse.

So what, then, do I mean? If we can’t respond to the uglies, what can we do? We can cry, scream, cuddle those stuffed animals saved from our childhood that we swear are only there to inspire our next great children’s book…and then we can move on to other reviews. The reviews that include reasons for the low rating, questions about areas in the book that confused them, or even glowing recommendations. These are something that might provide for a GOOD interaction with our readers. For these, I would suggest reading them multiple times, letting the questions or comments simmer, and then writing out a respectful response that asks for more detail about where/what their complaint pertains to in the story or answering their questions. If you cannot do this in a respectful, kind manner then DO NOT RESPOND AT ALL! However, if you can respond appropriately, this can lead them to connect with you on other sites, possibly even garnering recommendations or new readers.

Additionally, if they have specifically commented on something they enjoyed about your story responding with a little information about that segment, a little behind-the-scenes backstory, can create a bit of a bond between reader and author. It gives them a peek into your process and allows for a respectful and friendly back and forth. This can also lead to them recommending you to their friends, following you on social media, and possibly even becoming a new reader buddy.

You must use your best judgement though! Please, please don’t force yourself to respond to people if you don’t feel like it. Some people say that authors should put their work out into the world and never look back, letting their ‘baby’ fly on alone. I don’t believe that those people have ever spent what feels like an eternity writing, re-writing, editing, revising, sending out, reading rejection letters, formatting, and printing pieces of their souls. I could be wrong about that though. It is all a matter of personal opinion. This post, as pretty much everything else I write, is my own opinion.

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Please use self-control and self-policing here. Our goal is not to scare readers or make a bad name for ourselves, it is to help ourselves grow as authors. If you do not feel comfortable responding to reviewers or feel as though you would be nasty to them, then please don’t force yourself to respond on my account! Remember, you can usually also send a private message to the reviewer if you would like to quietly and without fanfare ask for specifics from their reviews. That can sometimes be the best option. IF you do ask for their specifics in order to look it back over, please consider also sending them a note that you’ve revised that section or asking them read the possible revisions so that you know if it works better in the new format or wording. You may have just located a new Beta reader with fresh eyes for your work.

Have any thoughts on this topic?? Can’t wait to hear from you!! Until then, may you be blessed with great reviews and fabulous bursts of inspiration.

 

50 Years of “If I Was…”

The amazing play/movie musical Fiddler on the Roof ran for the first time in the year 1964. 50 years later, we’re still humming along with Tevye and his lot. I will admit that I have sung and danced a few times to the soundtrack from this story…and played my flute to the sheet music more times than that!

My Dad, a church of Christ minister and Biblical Studies Professor, has sung and shimmied Tevye’s famous lines in front of many different types and ages of audience…and has quoted the nightmare scene as well! My daughter, when she was an infant, spent a night in which the only time she would stop crying was when Fiddler was playing. As you can tell, my family has a history with this great production.

So when I was given a free copy of the 50th Anniversary Edition Script (with sheet music) in exchange for an honest review, I was worried that it would fall short of the show. Scripts, sheet music, and books often fall short when we already have that visual in place in our memories.

Luckily for me, the book exceeds expectations by a large margin. The illustrations and cover are gorgeous, the book is well put together, and my prior knowledge only enhances the experience of reading such a heart-string tugging story.

If you get the chance, watch, read, and listen to this great story whether for the first time or the fiftieth, and take a moment to appreciate the beauty, history, and effort that have molded together to bring a people and family to life. Then give a little shimmy and kick your legs up, the fiddler is at it again!

I give this book 5 out of 5 dragons!